Haitians-living in a state of seemingly impossible perpetual crisis since the massive earthquake last January 12th-have been violently protesting UN peacekeeping troops in the country, in part because the cholera epidemic in Haiti is believed to have been brought to Haiti by peacekeepers from Nepal. Given that cholera epidemics in Haiti are practically unheard of (before the current epidemic there hasn’t been a confirmed case), it is possible that cholera was introduced in Haiti by U.N. peacekeepers, or by a members of one of the plethora of NGOs, (Non-Governmental Organizations), working in the country.
While the cholera epidemic in Haiti has claimed at least 1,200 lives, each year approximately three to five million people are infected globally, and this results in 100,000 to 130,000 deaths.
The cholera epidemic in Haiti has become geographically generalized as it is present in all ten of the provinces in the country, and has spread to the Dominican Republic. In response, the United Nations has asked for $164 million to address the crisis over the next 6 months, and as many Haitians do not have access to clean drinking water and soap, much needs to be done.
The aid organization, Doctors Without Borders, has vocally protested the lack of support for the cholera epidemic in Haiti and have stated that due to a lack of clean water, proper sanitation, and treatment for the sick, they are currently unable to cope with the situation.
Why Do Most Haitians Not Have Access to Clean Water?
While NGOs play a big role in the daily lives of Haitians-even before the January 12th earthquake-some observers believe that the high number of NGOs, and lack of government planning, has in some ways fanned the flames of disorganization and chaos. Indeed, it is estimated that there are 10,000 different NGOs in Haiti. On a per capita basis only India has more NGOs working inside its borders.
And each of these NGOs, more or less, has a different focus. This patchwork quilt of NGOs has filled the gap left by the Haitian government in a way that is neither complete nor organized. It is becoming increasingly clear that the lack of simple basics-chiefly clean drinking water and sanitation-are fueling the cholera epidemic which has become a second disaster after the earthquake.
Aid organizations in Haiti have complained that the Haitian government has done little to improve the water supply, or sanitation, in the country before the earthquake. NGOs have tried to fill the gap when it comes to people in need-such as by trucking in clean water. However, permanent infrastructure improvements, such as putting in piping which can deliver clean water much more efficiently and cheaply, have with some frequency been caught up in red tape awaiting government approval.
Even in better times-before the earthquake-over 1/3 of Haitians were unable to get clean water. And currently only 20% of Haitians have regular access to a toilet or latrine. In addition, a lack of education concerning how to prevent cholera compounds the problem.
While hindsight is often 20/20, the best way forward in Haiti remains obscure due to a complex political situation, a lack of strong leadership in the government, and sluggish donations from rich countries.